The Cactus Trail (11/1/1917)
(Continued from previous)
(By Alfred E. Reeves)
It will be necessary to go back a few years in explaining the circumstances laying the foundation for the visit of Steve Adams at the Reamer home. They had never met before. Mr. Reamer had never heard of this man.
For several years before the silver strike in the mountains south a band of out-law Mexicans and Gringoes had been rustling cattle and horses from the north and west and owing to this valley being completely surrounded by mountains made it an ideal place for such work and hard to get into and an easy hiding place for large herds of cattle and horses. They could be easily driven over the border in case they were disturbed on this side.
The trend of civilization was steadily advancing, it had even been rumored a railroad would penetrate the valley, superceding the pony express and stage line that plied regularly between Deming and El Paso, making the trip one way each week.
The silver strike had come and passed, it had stopped the systematic operation of this gang, in fact, it had stopped for Uncle Dave Jorden* who told me the story, he succeeded in breaking them up after having captured Steve Adams, red-handed with cattle taken from a settler forty-five miles north. The story of the capture is as follows.
Uncle Dave was on his last hunting trip north before summer closed the deer and bear season. He slept high up in the mountain this night; he liked the great outdoors and the language of the mountains, which are only understood by men who communicate often with them, they are pals to the mountaineers. They love the sighing winds and the changing moods, the nearness to nature and their greatness; so he slept and upon waking found to his consternation a cunning bear had stolen his haversack containing his bacon and bread only leaving his coffee behind. Hunting for the thief until past noon Uncle Dave got so hungry he decided to ride to a settlers for food. Joe Thomas’ claim was the nearest and there he went for supper.
Upon arriving he found the house in ruins, smoldering remains of a few outbuildings with every evidence of a raid; he had known these before and was sure on whom to place the blame. He dismounted, examined the tracks in the yard for evidence, looked among the embers for the remains of charred bodies but found none; extending the search further he found tracks of horses and mules with their riders, in the sand.
Scarcely half an hour before, the homestead had been visited by Steve Adams and a gang of Mexican desperadoes, they had bound Joe Thomas, placed him astride a large cactus stump, and with this suspended between two mules was compelled to ride to the top of the mountain several miles away between armed and insulting Mexicans. Here he was brutally treated and released upon penalty of death if he ever came back to his ranch or the valley again. Desperate from pain and the thoughts of his wife and child, he ran along the mountain side until exhausted where he fell in a faint upon the sand.
The terribleness of the crime was evident, not a thing alive or of value remained. South a few miles a cloud of dust was raising from the hoofs of the cattle that were being driven away. Leaving his faithful old horse nibbling new shoots from a mesket (sic) brush Uncle Dave started the investigation down toward the well where he was sure they would go. A woman’s footprints in the sand led west, she was evidently being compelled to go by men whose tracks showed on each side of her. These he followed fifty yards to the west, they were lost; he called but only the emptiness of the desert was his answer. From the foothills north a flock of mountain crows came flying over calling and bantering as they circled and flew back again. The afternoon sun shown hot on the scorching sand while the insects droned lazily, enjoying its warmth after the winter months were passed. Wondering what next he could do, Uncle Dave stood thinking; from a clump of desert weeds crawled a child of the desert, the most gastly (sic) insect known, it sped across the few feet space to the next shelter where it was lost to view, but distubed a nest of sand swifts that went scampering to other hiding places. Something else moved just beyond the clump of cactus bushes, it attracted his attention; he started immediately, frightened and dismayed, for plainly visible projecting from behind the bush was a little child’s feet. He ran and picked her up as quickly as possible, he found the little hands were tied and the feet bound, and crowded into the little mouth was a piece of dirty blue handkerchief that had been taken from around some Mexican’s neck, over this was another piece tied tight around its curley (sic) head serving as a gag to suffocate the child and keep her from crying. Uncle Dave cut this away and quickly removed the filthy rag from her mouth, loosed the little hands and feet and took her in his big arms while a hot tear stole down his rugged face, for how could men do such things—He had no wife or babies to love. She gasped only a few times to regain her breath and putting her arms about his neck, sobbingly cried, "I want mama."
More than a score of years have passed but his eyes moistened and he winked hard to keep back the tears as Uncle Dave told me this story.
Again and again the child cried for its mother and the only answer he could get was a childish chubby arm pointing west as she sobbed out, "they took her over there." Quickly as possible he searched each clump of bushes and each network of cactus beds. Very soon he found her gagged in the same manner with pieces of her own clothing and wedged between cactus bushes so the thorns tore her flesh whenever she tried to move. Nearly dead from the cruel treatment and the mental anguish of the terrible thoughts that passed through her mind, not knowing what had become of her husband or little Gladys, and knowing it would be only a matter of time until the men would come back for her—that would be worse than death. Quickly and gently Uncle Dave took her from the bushes, cut the cords that bound her and loosed the gag from her mouth.
Behind he heard the bushes rustling and turning, saw his faithful old horse coming toward him on a swift trot as he had been taught to do when danger was near. Uncle Dave relied a great deal upon the horse’s intuition, as many a time old Jack had saved him from the Indians or skulking mountain lion. He gave the little girl to Mrs. Thomas and directed her to run a few paces behind a clump of sage brush for shelter. Old Jack was quickly concealed and on his knees with his trusty Winchester, Uncle Dave waited out of sight, and ready.
(Continued next week)
*Historic Farnam editor’s note: The name "Uncle Dave Jorden" is fictional, all other names in the story are real, according to the author of the story in the preceding letter.